The MIT Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Adam K. Boyles, will spotlight two very talented MIT students: Composer Dustin R. Katzin ’12 and pianist Yimin Chen ’13, on the season Finale Concert on May 4th in Kresge Auditorium.
The orchestra will premiere Dustin Katzin’s Schrödinger’s Cat: a Musical Journey into the Strange World of Quantum Physics, and will showcase pianist Yimin Chen ’13, the 2012 winner of the MITSO Concerto Competition as soloist in Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
In addition, the program will include Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, Suite No. 2. The concert is at 8pm and admission is free in advance but $5 at the door. Tickets are reserved online at Eventbrite.
About Yimen Chen
A junior majoring in biological engineering and minoring in chemistry and music, Yimin Chen says she grew to love Prokofiev’s first Piano Concerto, the piece she chose to learn for the MITSO Concerto Competition. She describes the work as dissonant, exuberant, athletic, and lyrical and says the concerto broadened her musical horizons. “I find it very satisfying to play with the power and high energy that the work requires. I also love being absorbed by the beauty and intensity of the Andante assai.”
Here is a taste of the Prokofiev by Yimin.
Yimin started learning Prokofiev’s first Piano Concerto this fall under the guidance of MIT Senior Lecturer, David Deveau, with whom she has studied for the past three years. She says Deveau has helped her become more ‘analytical’ about her playing. “Working with David Deveau has helped tame my ‘wildness.’ He made me realize the importance of subtleties, rhythmic structure, and disciplined practice. I’m grateful because I don’t think I could have made this much progress in three years anywhere else,” she said.
This year Yimin Chen, as in her freshman year, is again an Emerson Piano Scholar. Last year she was an Emerson Fellow and in the required Advanced Music Performance class that culminated with her public solo recital performance of Ravel’s Sonatine and Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy in Killian Hall. She has also participated in the Chamber Music Society for three semesters and taken several other music classes as well. Chen says music is something she needs to do. “For me, music and academics have always driven each other,” she explained.
But Chen’s passion for playing the piano, which she claims motivates her to study and do well in her classes, comes at the price of needing to practice with discipline after all her other academic work is done. She says: “unfortunately, this means that I often have to practice at strange hours of the day—really early or really late.” This scenario is unlikely to change any time soon as Yimin hopes to attend medical school after graduating from MIT and to continue playing music for the rest of her life.
Despite her eight years of experience playing the piano, Yimin has never had the opportunity to play with an orchestra before and is therefore looking forward to the challenge of performing the concerto with the MIT Symphony Orchestra. “I am excited to play this concerto with MITSO, and I hope that the freshness of the experience will inspire me to play my best,” she said.
About Dustin Katzin
Dustin R. Katzin, a senior in the MIT School of Science has been a member of the MIT Symphony Orchestra throughout his four years at MIT. Dustin is completing a double major in physics and mathematics with a minor in music. In addition to his work as a composer, Dustin is an accomplished clarinetist, bassoonist, percussionist, saxophonist, and Emerson Piano Scholar. Prior to coming to MIT Dustin studied composition with Donald Waxman, and while at MIT, with composers Keeril Makan, Peter Child and Charles Shadle. Dustin’s compositional style reveals strong influences by John Williams and Nobuo Uematsu.
Katzin’s piece Schrödinger’s Cat: a Musical Journey into the Strange World of Quantum Physics is an example of "program music," music that tells a story. “I’m grateful to Keeril Makan for providing me with the spark that began the piece, and to Peter Child and Charles Shadle for helping me refine the piece into its final form. Finally, I can’t express my gratitude enough to Adam Boyles, for giving me this amazing opportunity to have my music performed by MITSO, said Katzin.
Schrödinger’s Cat | a thought experiment
Schrödinger’s Cat is based on quantum mechanics, specifically, about a thought experiment devised in 1935 by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger. It demonstrates the apparent conflict between what quantum theory tells us is true about the nature and behavior of matter on the microscopic level and what we observe to be true about the nature and behavior of matter on the macroscopic level -- everything visible to the unaided human eye.
In the thought experiment, a cat is placed in a sealed room in which there is radioactive material. Over time the atoms of the radioactive material may decay and release poisonous gas, which could kill the cat. So the question asked is: is the cat in the room dead or alive? Erwin Schrödinger said that, according to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, as long as the door is closed, the cat would be described as simultaneously dead and alive, until its observation proved it to be one or the other. This is called superposition of states.
Dustin explains: “The Copenhagen interpretation accurately describes the behavior of fundamental properties of subatomic particles, such as the spin of an electron. What we see every day, so-called "classical" physics, emerges from considering a huge amount of such quantities acting together. A cat being alive or dead is a complicated process. The cat's atoms act quantum-mechanically, but those atoms work together as cells, which work together as organs, which can either function or not function based on biology. So although the concept of superposition of states is true, naively applying it to the cat is a misuse of the theory.”
In Dustin’s creative adaptation of the story, Schrödinger’s cat, is kidnapped and placed in a box by his nemesis, Heisenberg. Dustin writes: “While the cat is in the box, a musical wave function is formed: equal parts of “life” and “death” motifs are played simultaneously. Tension builds as Schrödinger contemplates opening the box, as doing so may kill the cat. At this point, the box is opened: the conductor flips a coin, which decides whether Schrödinger discovers the cat alive or dead.” Accordingly, Katzin wrote two endings for the piece, one happy and one sad, but it is the conductor’s coin flip that decides how the piece ends.
Here is a clip of a reading by the MIT Symphony Orchestra of an earlier version of Katzin’s piece. This is the happy ending. The Cat Lives!
Music and Science
Dustin has effectively combined his interests in music and science by including elements of randomness and scientific thematic material in his compositions. He again combines his interests by writing the music score for a film about clean energy, “Solar” by his fellow MIT student Daniel Dahan ’12. The video can be viewed on MIT Tech TV.
Yet Dustin’s understanding of this relationship between science and music is deeper than the programmatic links in his compositions. In his own words: “Composing has a scientific quality to it, and sometimes feels a lot like doing a problem set in math or physics." Dustin goes on to compare composing to discovery: “In composing, I subconsciously know how the piece goes already, and writing it down makes me feel like I’m discovering something that already existed.” Continuing the parallel, Katzin describes his experiences of the "aha moment" as “powerful shocks of insight that occur after long periods of writer’s block.” But fortunately now he can finally say, “It’s time to toss the coin and open the box.”